Holy Basil and Testosterone: Tulsi for Hormonal Health?

By Ali Kuoppala | Last reviewed Mon 24 September 2018

Medical Review by Gerardo Sison, PharmD

Holy basil, also known as tulsi (Ocimum sanctum) is a plant generously used in Indian herbal medicine of Ayurveda.

Tulsi is commonly praised for its testosterone boosting effect. However, it’s also used as an anti-fertility agent. Human data of holy basil limited, although the animal research on this plant is pretty impressive. Even though tulsi may raise testosterone levels, it also powerfully suppresses the HPTA (Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Testicular Axis).

Here’s a look into the hormonal effects of holy basil.

Tulsi and Testosterone Production

holy basil supplementHoly basil is part of the family of plants labeled as Labiatae, more commonly known as mint.

Since some plants from the Labiatae family (peppermint and spearmint at least) powerfully suppress testosterone production, I started looking at the tulsi research from the similar point of view, as in; maybe holy basil is also antiandrogenic.

The active ingredients in tulsi are as follows:

  • Rosmarinic acid and oils with aromatic properties.
  • Ursolic acid (likely responsible for the hormonal effects).
  • Eugenol (which is said to be the main active component).
  • Apigenin (flavonol that can increase StAR and lower estrogen).

The research on humans suggests that consumption of holy basil can lead to improved immunity (due to an increase in lymphocytes and T killer and helper cells1). At a dosage of 1g/day tulsi can lead to lowered depression and reduced feelings of anxiety2.

When it comes to hormones, both holy basil and the active ingredient; ursolic acid have been studied in-vitro and in animals. Holy basil fed to male albino rabbits at 2g/day was able to absolutely skyrocket testosterone levels from the average of 303 ng/dL all the way to 1500 ng/dL, which was the maximum limit of the testing apparatus, there’s no way to tell how high the rabbits testosterone levels really were at the end, but since luteinizing hormone (LH) production stopped completely, it seems to be comparable to steroid-induced HPTA shutdown3.

study results

Multiple other studies have shown that the administration of tulsi powerfully suppresses sperm production and results in lower quality and quantity of semen4. This takes place with isolated ursolic acid too, suggesting that it’s the main ingredient behind the HPTA suppression in holy basil5,6.

Possible hypothesis to explain this pattern of changes in hormone levels could be that tulsi leaves probably contain some androgenic analog, which increased the circulating testosterone levels sufficiently to inhibit LH but not sufficient to accumulate in the testis at the required concentration for normal spermatogenesis. However, the decreased LH levels will diminish the intratesticular production of testosterone by Leydig cells, which results in reduced levels of spermatogenesis.Int J Ayurveda Res. 2010

Conclusion on Tulsi and Testosterone

I have never seen such impressive increases in testosterone production from a single herb before (albeit this was in rabbits).

Even though holy basil absolutely skyrocketed testosterone production, it’s good to keep in mind that this was likely due to some androgenic/anabolic compound in the plant that directly increased testosterone levels in the gonads, NOT via increased production and signals from the brain through the gonadotropins (LH and FSH).

Since holy basil leads to complete shutdown of the production of luteinizing hormone, it effectively STOPS the natural production of testosterone and leads to lowered follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) which suppresses sperm production (which is probably why it’s used as an anti-fertility agent in India).

Would this take place in humans? I simply do not know.

At this point, I wouldn’t recommend holy basil. It seems to be incredibly anabolic herb, but so much so that it results in similar side effect as steroids and TRT does (shutdown of the natural production). There are compounds that increase testosterone levels without suppressing the HPTA, which are much safer to use.

Mondal S, Varma S, Bamola V, et al. Double-blinded randomized controlled trial for immunomodulatory effects of Tulsi (Ocimum sanctum Linn.) leaf extract on healthy volunteers. J Ethnopharmacol. 2011;136(3):452-456.
Bhattacharyya D, Sur T, Jana U, Debnath P. Controlled programmed trial of Ocimum sanctum leaf on generalized anxiety disorders. Nepal Med Coll J. 2008;10(3):176-179.
Sethi J, Yadav M, Sood S, Dahiya K, Singh V. Effect of tulsi (Ocimum Sanctum Linn.) on sperm count and reproductive hormones in male albino rabbits. Int J Ayurveda Res. 2010;1(4):208-210.
Seth S, Johri N, Sundaram K. Antispermatogenic effect of Ocimum sanctum. Indian J Exp Biol. 1981;19(10):975-976.
Chattopadhyay D, Dungdung S, Mandal A, Majumder G. A potent sperm motility-inhibiting activity of bioflavonoids from an ethnomedicine of Onge, Alstonia macrophylla Wall ex A. DC, leaf extract. Contraception. 2005;71(5):372-378.
Ursolic acid generates symplasts in rat spermatogenic clones. Online Library. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/(SICI)1099-1573(19980201)12:1%3C32::AID-PTR185%3E3.0.CO;2-4/abstract. Accessed February 24, 2017.

Ali Kuoppala

Ali Kuoppala is the founder of Anabolic Men. He has authored and co-authored multiple men's health books and focuses on uncovering the methods of optimizing hormonal health. To date, his articles on various websites have been read more than 15-million times. To read more about Ali, visit his Medium article.